China's vice president left Monday for a crucial getting-acquainted visit to the United States before he takes over as leader of the world's most populous nation later this year, amid tensions over trade, currency and a sharpening competition for global influence.
Xi Jinping is due to meet with President Barack Obama and other top officials in Washington on Tuesday at a time when the perceived economic threat posed by China to the U.S. is featuring prominently in the Republican Party presidential nomination process.
He'll also make a stop in the Midwestern state of Iowa on Wednesday to meet local politicians and families with whom he stayed on a 1985 visit while serving as a local official in charge of the pork industry. Xi finishes the U.S. leg of his visit in California for meetings with business leaders and will stop in Ireland and Turkey before returning home.
The U.S. visit seeks to better acquaint politicians and opinion makers with the man widely expected to begin taking charge this autumn of the world's second largest economy and biggest overseas holder of U.S. government debt.
One aspect of Xi's visit will be to gauge public perceptions of China in the U.S. and seek ways of overcoming a lack of trust between the sides, a task complicated by disputes over trade, Taiwan, human rights and international concerns such as intervening in the ongoing violence in Syria.
U.S. politicians bemoan Washington's trade deficit with China, which last year widened to $202.3 billion, evidence, they say, that Beijing violates trading rules, engages in rampant intellectual property theft, and deliberately undervalues its currency to boost exports.
China and the U.S. are also increasingly rivals in the Asia-Pacific region, with Washington's traditional alliances competing with China's economic and cultural influence. China sees the U.S. as encouraging skepticism and dissent among neighbors in the region while trying to undermine communist rule by encouraging civil liberties and human rights causes.
Washington, meanwhile, says China has yet to explain the reasons behind its massive military buildup and accuses Beijing of protecting rogue regimes such as Syria's. Beijing outraged the U.S., Europe and much of the Arab world by joining Russia in vetoing a United Nations resolution aimed at stopping the Syrian bloodshed.
Writing in the official English-language China Daily newspaper, a collection of well-known Chinese scholars said ties are dogged by strong Chinese perceptions that the U.S. aims to contain Beijing's growth, particularly as Washington carries through a strategic pivot shifting attention and resources back to the Asia-Pacific.
"Judging from the present situation of China-U.S. relations, the strategic mutual trust between the two sides still lags far behind the common interests they actually share," wrote the scholars, who included Wang Jisi and Jia Qingguo of Peking University's School of International Studies, top advisers to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
In written responses to questions from The Washington Post, Xi highlighted the profitability of U.S. companies operating in China, along with Beijing's efforts to address American economic concerns.
But he also made a dig at U.S. efforts to strengthen its military alliances in Asia, expressing what U.S. officials have said are hardline personal views on China's security, sovereignty, and national dignity.
"We welcome a constructive role by the United States in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region. We also hope that the United States will fully respect and accommodate the major interest and legitimate concerns of Asia-Pacific countries," Xi said in comments posted on the newspaper's website.
Xi's visit is unlikely to produce major commercial deals, in contrast to earlier trips by Chinese officials that often featured purchases of U.S. jetliners and other goods in an effort to ease tension over Beijing's multibillion-dollar trade surplus.
On Wednesday, Chinese officials are due to attend the signing in Des Moines, Iowa, of a purchase agreement for soybeans, the biggest single U.S. export to China. No details of price or size were announced.
Businesspeople and trade groups said they knew of no other major deals scheduled to be completed during the visit. A spokesman at Boeing Co., Yukui Wang, said he knew of no planned purchases of Boeing aircraft.
On Tuesday, Xi will speak before 600 corporate and policy leaders at a Washington lunch organized by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
In Los Angeles, Xi is to take part in an investment-promotion event sponsored by China's Ministry of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Xi is being accompanied by officials including Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and International Trade Representative Gao Hucheng.
Associated Press reporter Joe McDonald contributed to this report.